By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on April 7, 2017
The Robert W. Woodruff Foundation has made a catalytic $5 million gift to create the 16-acre Rodney Cook Sr. Park in the Vine City neighborhood.
The grant was actually double the request made by the Trust for Public Land, which is seeking to raise a total of $12.7 million for the above ground amenities in the park, which will include a splash-pad, a playground, a great lawn with a natural amphitheater and performance plaza, a picnic pavilion, a boardwalk, an overlook, terraced pools and courts for various sports.
The $45 million park also will have a lake that will serve as a storm water retention pond — significantly reducing the flooding that has impacted the community. The City of Atlanta’s Department of Watershed is investing up to $20 million to build out the below-ground water infrastructure.
“We have heard about plans for Cook Park for years, and the city and the Trust for Public Land are going to make it happen,” said Russ Hardin, president of the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation. “It will be a terrific building block for the English Avenue and Vine City communities. It will be a key piece of the much-anticipated redevelopment and reinvigoration of the Westside.”
George Dusenbury, Georgia director of the Trust for Public Land, said the Woodruff gift is a major boost for the campaign, which already has raised a little more than $3 million. The Woodruff Foundation’s grant comes with a condition that the remaining $4.5 million must be raised by Sept. 30.
“In the nonprofit world, the support of the Woodruff Foundation sends a clear signal as to the importance and the viability of this project,” Dusenbury said. “It will help our cause when we meet with other potential donors.”
John Ahmann, executive director of the Westside Future Fund who is an ex-officio member of the campaign committee, agreed.
“It signals the continued investment by the leadership of our city into these targeted neighborhoods of our city,” Ahmann said. “Folks know the kind of due diligence the Woodruff Foundation does before making an investment. To have such a significant green space will be an enormous amenity for the community. And it will play an important role in helping mitigate flooding in the area.”
The city is moving forward with plans to hire a construction manager for the project, and legislation will be introduced at the Atlanta City Council on May 1.
“Our hope is that we would hire the same firm,” Dusenbury said. If all continues on track, the park should open in about a year.
Hardin said the gift is in keeping with the Woodruff Foundation’s support of parks throughout Atlanta.
“We have invested in parks for years, and we feel good about our investments in Piedmont Park, Centennial Olympic Park, the Historic Fourth Ward Park and green space along the Chattahoochee River,” Hardin said. “Through Park Pride, we also have invested in a lot of smaller parks.”
The hope is that Cook Park will help spark reinvestment in the Vine City and English Avenue communities, which are just west of the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium under construction.
Ahmann said the goal is to attract more people to move to the community while keeping true to the character of the community and not displacing existing residents.
“We want to make sure we have a mixed-income community as we go forward,” Ahmann said. “The park will give the community a much better amenity.”
Dusenbury, Atlanta’s former commissioner for parks and recreation, remembered when the park was first proposed in 2010.
“It’s been a seven-year journey of ups and downs,” Dusenbury said. “But everything is falling into place.”